Has MOE achieved its objective with the new PSLE scoring system?

The MOE introduced the new PSLE Scoring System based on Achievement Levels instead of an aggregate T-score. One year on, we discuss if this new system has benefited our children and the new challenges that have been brought to the table. We present this exciting debate, and ways to overcome these new challenges all in our latest blogpost.

I. Introduction

A rite of pas­sage for every pri­ma­ry school stu­dent in Sin­ga­pore, the PSLE is the quin­tes­sence of Singapore’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem. That notwith­stand­ing, the PSLE has been under fire for years. Par­ents crit­i­cise the dif­fi­cul­ty of the exam­i­na­tion and ques­tion whether the PSLE is nec­es­sary for stu­dents at such a young age.

Amidst the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing the PSLE, the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion (the “MOE”) has reaf­firmed its posi­tion that aca­d­e­m­ic mer­it is impor­tant in sec­ondary school post­ing. The PSLE is need­ed to assess every pri­ma­ry school stu­dent and help them decide on the next step of their edu­ca­tion jour­ney that best suits their pace of devel­op­ment.

In oth­er words, love it or hate it, the PSLE is here to stay.

Instead of doing away with the PSLE, the MOE has cho­sen to over­haul the PSLE scor­ing sys­tem. The new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem with its wider scor­ing bands broad­ly aims to (1) reduce exam stress and results obses­sion, (2) elim­i­nate com­pe­ti­tion among stu­dents and (3) recog­nise the strengths of stu­dents so as to bet­ter match them to sec­ondary schools that would be a good fit for their apti­tudes.

Two batch­es of Pri­ma­ry 6 stu­dents have already gone through the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem. It is per­haps time­ly to share our thoughts on whether the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem has or will achieve the three broad objec­tives that the MOE has set out for it.

II. Objective 1: Reduce Exam Stress and Results Obsession

“We made a delib­er­ate shift away from the old T‑score sys­tem so stu­dents do not chase the last mark. An obses­sive over-empha­sis on exam results is not healthy for the devel­op­ment of our chil­dren.”

Mr Wong Siew Hoong

MOE’s direc­tor-gen­er­al of edu­ca­tion

Because of the way the old PSLE aggre­gate score (or T‑score) was cal­cu­lat­ed, every mark lost or gained in any of a child’s Eng­lish, Math­e­mat­ics, Sci­ence and Moth­er Tongue paper mat­tered. This piled undue pres­sure on stu­dents to attain sub­ject mas­tery, avoid care­less mis­takes and pur­sue per­fec­tion. In com­par­i­son, the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem has wider scor­ing bands, sup­pos­ed­ly giv­ing stu­dents more room to make mis­takes.

For exam­ple, a 5‑mark range score from 80 to 84 would be equiv­a­lent to an Achieve­ment Lev­el (“AL”) of 3. In this regard, not every mark mat­ters now as stu­dents would have a 5 mark cush­ion. Fol­low­ing the log­ic adopt­ed by the MOE, this would cre­ate less stress and obses­sion over exam results.

Chasing Every Mark

One year on, from what we have observed, the out­come is not what the MOE had envi­sioned. While full of good inten­tions, the wider scor­ing band has done lit­tle to ease the “chase for the last mark.” From our expe­ri­ence as edu­ca­tors, we are still wit­ness­ing stu­dents stress­ing over every sin­gle mark. This is because they do not know exact­ly what they are going to score or how exact­ly the PSLE papers will be marked. With the wider scor­ing bands, the issue is that one sin­gle mark could be the dif­fer­ence between an entire AL, which would be more detri­men­tal than a dif­fer­ence of a few marks in the T‑score.

We too had hoped that the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem would ease the stress and obses­sion over exam­i­na­tions and stu­dents’ per­for­mance. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we have seen min­i­mal to no improve­ment in that respect when inter­act­ing with our stu­dents and par­ents. As edu­ca­tors, we do our best to align our­selves with MOE and what it tries to achieve. In this regard, we have pre­vi­ous­ly writ­ten about how par­ents can help their child pre­pare for the PSLE so as to take some stress off their shoul­ders 

As par­ents find ways to sup­port their chil­dren in their aca­d­e­m­ic jour­ney, we hope our words of advice can not only pro­vide them with much need­ed guid­ance, but also give them some com­fort that we too are with them in this jour­ney.

The Valley of Death

Fur­ther, as we go low­er down the AL ranges, it is clear to see that the mark range becomes big­ger. This fact has not escaped our stu­dents and their par­ents. A vast major­i­ty of them share the same sen­ti­ments. Stu­dents do not want to score 74 marks and be at the same lev­el as anoth­er stu­dent who scored only 65 marks. Sim­i­lar­ly, they do not want to score 64 marks and be award­ed the same AL as anoth­er stu­dent who failed and scored 45 marks. In fact, a par­ent of ours once described the ALs 5 and 6 as “The Val­ley of Death.” This metaphor cor­re­sponds with our expe­ri­ence. The new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem has cre­at­ed an army of anx­ious par­ents who have made it their mis­sion to ensure their chil­dren avoid these two dread­ed ALs.

More­over, the unfor­tu­nate real­i­ty is that a large num­ber of stu­dents actu­al­ly hov­er around the 60 to 75 mark range and it is per­haps no sur­prise why we are see­ing a surge in demand for our enrich­ment class­es. More and more par­ents are des­per­ate to have their chil­dren improve so as to get out of “The Val­ley of Death.”

Exposing Weaknesses

Stress lev­els do not abate under the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem. In fact, it is the reverse that is true. The new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem is more unfor­giv­ing and expos­es stu­dents’ weak sub­jects even more than the T‑score sys­tem, caus­ing greater stress and wor­ry over aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance in exam­i­na­tions. Under the old sys­tem, a stu­dent in the top flight who scored high As for 3 sub­jects and a low A for 1 sub­ject could have very pos­si­bly got­ten a T‑score of at least 250, mean­ing he qual­i­fies  for the Inte­grat­ed Pro­gramme (the “IP”) stream. In con­trast, under the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem, that same stu­dent would have nar­row­ly missed the cut for the IP stream. This is because he would have scored AL 2 for three sub­jects and an AL 4 for the fourth sub­ject, giv­ing him a PSLE score of 10.

The sce­nario paint­ed above is hard­ly a hypo­thet­i­cal one. One of the most com­mon com­plaints and con­cerns of par­ents is that their chil­dren are dis­in­ter­est­ed and weak in their Moth­er Tongue. From our expe­ri­ence, two out of three Chi­nese stu­dents wor­ry about their Chi­nese pulling down their PSLE score. This is where our Chi­nese cen­tre, “鼎 育” (pro­nounced Ding Yu), comes in to save the day! Employ­ing the same edu­ca­tion­al phi­los­o­phy as Think Teach, 鼎 育 focus­es on smart tech­niques that make Chi­nese easy, effi­cient and effec­tive. As the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem is less for­giv­ing than the old one, gone are the days when stu­dents can com­pen­sate a stronger sub­ject for a weak­er one. Every sub­ject is impor­tant, includ­ing the Moth­er Tongue.

The MOE intend­ed well when it con­cep­tu­alised and intro­duced the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem. It hoped to slow­ly change our cul­ture of exam stress and obses­sion. How­ev­er, it does appear that the MOE may have com­plete­ly missed the mark in this regard. The MOE has iron­i­cal­ly wors­ened exam stress and obses­sion lev­els with wider scor­ing bands. It has unwit­ting­ly cre­at­ed a sit­u­a­tion where stu­dents are pun­ished more severe­ly for their weak­ness­es. More­over, instead of fight­ing against the reliance on tuition, the MOE has in fact solid­i­fied the very need for tuition as a means not just to get ahead but also to get out of the low­er and wider ALs.

We help our stu­dents steer clear of “The Val­ley of Death”, climb up the AL bands, and achieve their fullest poten­tial by rely­ing on our strengths. One of our great­est strengths is help­ing stu­dents make big improve­ments in both learn­ing atti­tude and exam­i­na­tion per­for­mance. We achieve this by ded­i­cat­ing our­selves to the for­mu­la­tion of nov­el and unique tech­niques that allow our teach­ers to Teach Smart and our stu­dents to Learn and Think Smart. With our tech­niques, learn­ing becomes excit­ing, effi­cient and effec­tive!

In addi­tion, every par­ent of ours is auto­mat­i­cal­ly includ­ed in our TTA Par­ent Sup­port Pro­gramme where we send out com­pli­men­ta­ry sum­marised notes, exam­i­na­tion guides, sup­ple­men­tary prac­tices and teach­ing videos etc to give our stu­dents the extra boost they need for the PSLE. We also gen­er­ous­ly share our tech­niques on our YouTube chan­nel as well as in our blog arti­cles.

As edu­ca­tors, we com­mit our­selves to the suc­cess of our stu­dents. Often­times, we find that mak­ing big improve­ment in grades sim­ply requires a fine-tun­ing of the learn­ing tech­niques and strate­gies one employs to study and pre­pare for exam­i­na­tions. We know we have the right tech­niques. Suc­cess sto­ries of our past and present stu­dents are a tes­ta­ment to this fact. This is why we hope that every stu­dent in Sin­ga­pore gets to expe­ri­ence learn­ing with us!

IV. Objective 3: Recognising Strengths

“We hope that the new AL scor­ing sys­tem, togeth­er with the changes we are mak­ing under the full sub­ject-based band­ing in our sec­ondary schools over the next few years, will make stu­dents’ learn­ing even mean­ing­ful.”

Mr Wong Siew Hoong

MOE’s direc­tor-gen­er­al of edu­ca­tion

There is cause to cel­e­brate for stu­dents post­ed to the Nor­mal Aca­d­e­m­ic (“NA”) and Nor­mal Tech­ni­cal (“NT”) streams. The wide scor­ing bands in the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem recog­nis­es and cel­e­brates stu­dents’ strengths. It would be used as an indi­ca­tor as to whether stu­dents can take sub­jects at a lev­el high­er than their streams. For exam­ple, in pre­vi­ous years, a stu­dent in the NA stream had to take all his sub­jects at the NA lev­el. That has now changed as a stu­dent despite his stream is eli­gi­ble to take sub­jects at the Express lev­el as long as he scored AL 5 or bet­ter for that sub­ject in the PSLE. This is great news for NA and NT stu­dents, as they would not be deprived of a stan­dard of edu­ca­tion that suits their apti­tude just because of the stream they are in.

The same pos­i­tive impact of the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem is not felt by stu­dents who are scor­ing high­er up the ALs. Unlike an NA or NT stu­dent, an Express stream stu­dent does not have the option of tak­ing sub­jects at the IP lev­el even if he had scored AL 1 for that sub­ject in the PSLE. The only way to take sub­jects at the IP lev­el is to score 9 points and below and qual­i­fy for the IP stream. At this junc­ture, it would be most apt to bring back the exam­ple of the top flight stu­dent who scored AL 2 for 3 sub­jects and AL 4 for 1 sub­ject.

That stu­dent is clear­ly strong in at least 3 sub­jects. At the AL 2 lev­el, he should be primed to study those 3 sub­jects at the more chal­leng­ing IP lev­el. How­ev­er, he would be denied that oppor­tu­ni­ty because his over­all score of 10 rel­e­gates him to the Express stream. Thus, the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem is nar­row and lim­it­ed in its impact. While an argu­ment can be made that it recog­nis­es strengths and makes learn­ing more mean­ing­ful, this pos­i­tive impact is not felt across the board and only applies to stu­dents in the NA and NT streams.

There is a clear imbal­ance in what MOE has man­aged to achieve with the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem. We hope that the MOE recog­nis­es this and makes pro­vi­sions for a more robust sub­ject-based band­ing in sec­ondary school. We sug­gest a sys­tem where no stu­dent gets left behind. Express stream stu­dents should also be allowed to hone their strengths in their stronger sub­jects at the more rig­or­ous IP lev­el.

V. Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that the MOE had their best inter­ests at heart when they decid­ed to revamp the PSLE scor­ing sys­tem. The pur­port­ed objec­tives of the new sys­tem shows that the MOE is head­ing in the right direc­tion. Right now, we just have to accept that the new PSLE scor­ing sys­tem has its flaws and chal­lenges.

Rather than throw stones from a glass house, we choose to embrace the new sys­tem and the chal­lenges that come with it. The jour­ney to PSLE suc­cess will be a long but ful­fill­ing one. Whether it is Eng­lish, Chi­nese, Math­e­mat­ics or Sci­ence, from Pri­ma­ry 1 to 6, we will be there for you and with you, every step of the way.

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